853

news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Capital Ring 10: Olympic Park to Charlton

with 10 comments

And now, the end is near… well, not all that near, as it happened. There were still a good 10 miles to go on the Capital Ring as a I hopped off the 108 at Stratford High Street. All around, the changes to E15 as 2012 approaches were apparent, as builders worked on creating approaches to the Olympic Park and developers continued making the place look unrecognisable from what it was a decade ago. From here, the walkway follows the Greenway for a couple of miles – quite literally, walking on top of a sewer. Part of Joseph Bazalgette‘s Victorian scheme to rid London of pongs and disease, the Northern Outfall Sewer runs from Hackney Wick to Beckton. The Capital Ring sticks with it for most of the way.

Greenway, Stratford
Greenway, Stratford
Abbey Mills Pumping Station
Greenway, Stratford

It’s not thrilling stuff, to be fair. The first section is surrounded by Olympic Park works, as work takes place to upgrade the walkway towards West Ham station in time for 2012. It passes the ornate former Abbey Mills Pumping Station – another part of Bazalgette’s grand plan. A clear view down to the Millennium Dome and Canary Wharf reminds you which side of London you’re in. Passing over the District Line and London, Tilbury and Southend rail line, by a park and a cemetery, the pathway becomes more peaceful. Neighbourhood cats prowl through the bushes, while all around, the Plaistow rooftops stretch out.

Greenway, Stratford
Greenway, Plaistow
Greenway, Plaistow
Greenway, Plaistow
Greenway, Plaistow

Finally, it’s off the Greenway, through some residential streets, over the A13, and into Beckton District Park, covered in autumn leaves. I’d expected a grim, modern, featureless open space, but in most parts it’s actually anything but that. The park’s older than it looks – dating back to 1903, a couple of decades after the creation of Beckton, named after the governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company, Simon Adams Beck, whose works dominated this area for decades. The park alternates between little bits of woodland, grassy mounds and formal gardens like the walk featuring examples of trees from aroud the world. The Capital Ring takes a twisting route through the park, with Tate & Lyle’s huge Silvertown plant coming into view.

Off the A13 at Plaistow
Beckton District Park
Beckton District Park
Beckton District Park

But it’s the great roars which start to dominate again, from the dual carriageway running north of the Royal Docks, and from London City Airport, whose planes make this walk a noisy one. The business customers who use the flights from here don’t have to come home to the housing estates which are dotted around Beckton.

Beckton District Park
Beckton Park
Beckton Park
Beckton Park
Beckton shop

The Capital Ring passes by New Beckton Park – padlocked for reasons best known to Newham Council – through some housing, and to Cyprus Docklands Light Railway station. Built in 1881, the Cyprus estate was named after Britain’s capture of the Mediterranean island. Bit it’s more a more recent building project that snatches the attention if you take a short diversion through the DLR station – the student accommodation at the University of East London’s Docklands campus, a series of cylindrical buildings which face the Royal Albert Dock. They also overlook London City Airport’s runway – perfect for plane-spotters, but I hope those student halls have good soundproofing.

UEL Docklands campus
UEL Docklands campus
Beckton graffiti
Closed Beckton boozer
Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, Beckton
Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, Beckton
Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, Beckton
Royal Albert Dock

Then it’s the grimmest part of the walk yet – past a boarded-up pub, over a nightmare-to-cross roundabout, just at the point where the Capital Ring signs dry up. Thanks, Newham. The map in my 2001 guide to the walk indicated a walk towards the river, but here the route appears to cross the dramatic Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge over the Royal Albert Dock, past King George V Dock, past the old work site for the DLR’s extension to Woolwich, ending up in a dull housing development at Gallions Point – stubbornly titled Galleons Point. Here, though, the path finally reaches the river, with a view across to Thamesmead and Woolwich, the water lapping up on a grassy bank below.

Gallions Point
Gallions Point
Gated development at North Woolwich
Gallions Point

The path continues in front of some flats, a couple of signs pointing out that this is private property and only Galleons Point residents are allowed on the adjacent grass. Nice. You have to press a button on a gate to be allowed out. From here, it’s along a narrow, dilapadated riverside park to Royal Victoria Gardens. Opened in 1851 as Woolwich Pleasure Gardens, its fairgrounds were initially popular, but it later fell into disrepair and became a haunt for prostitutes. It reopened in 1890 under its current name, but suffered from wartime damage and today looks, like most of North Woolwich, like it’s seen better days. This small area had been part of Kent since the Norman Conquest, and was part of the old borough of Woolwich until 1965, when it became part of Newham. As far as I know, no trace of it being run from south of the river remains nowadays.

Royal Victoria Gardens, North Woolwich
North Woolwich
North Woolwich Old Station Museum (closed)
North Woolwich Old Station Museum (closed)
Former North Woolwich Station

North Woolwich was always run-down, but it looks more down-at-heel than ever now, with Pier Road eerily quiet. Its pride and joy, the old station museum, a terrific but underpromoted little gem, was opened by the Queen Mother in 1984, but quietly shut its doors in January 2009. It’s now boarded up and vandalised. This huge building was the first North Woolwich railway station – the second, which replaced it in the late 1970s, also lies derelict and boarded up next door; superseded in 2006 by the Docklands Light Railway extension to nearby King George V and across to Woolwich. A heritage railway group had wanted to take on the old stations and the rusting remains of this leg of the North London Line – part of which is earmarked for eventual reuse as part of Crossrail – but their plans appear to have come to nothing.

Old Woolwich railway ferry jetty
Old Woolwich railway ferry jetty

Perhaps the DLR’s extension to Woolwich, which opened in January, had contributed to North Woolwich looking like a ghost town – plenty of people had always travelled from south of the river to use the North London Line, and later the DLR. Now they can just travel direct without walking down these streets. After all, the railway had always been an important part of North Woolwich’s history. It first opened here in 1847, long before the arrival of the docks, with a ferry service to “South Woolwich”, which didn’t get its own trains for another couple of years. The ferry to the south bank was killed off by the Woolwich Free Ferry, but the north pier stayed in use for excursions until World War II. Its remains are still there, opposite the old station.

Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Woolwich Foot Tunnel

After all this thought – and stopping to chat to a man who was waiting to photograph a bus – it was down into the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. The lifts were out of service, and chicanes have been placed inside the tunnel by Greenwich Council in a vain, aggravating attempt to deter cyclists from riding through the long, damp passageway. At Woolwich itself – the official start/end of the Capital Ring – the path runs through the car park of an ambulance station, through the traffic jam at the Woolwich Ferry (which has been operating a one boat service for some time), and then onto the Thames Path, past the smart flats at Mast Quay – built on stilts in case of flooding – and alongside Woolwich Dockyard Estate, where the path looked sad and neglected. The long-closed aquatic centre still looked as gloomy as ever.

Welcome to Woolwich
Mast Pond Wharf, Woolwich
Woolwich Dockyard Estate
Woolwich Dockyard Estate
King Henry's Wharf, Woolwich

The riverside path stops abruptly short of the Thames Barrier, denying Capital Ring users the chance to see London’s best-known flood defence close up. Instead, it’s through isolated housing at King Henry’s Wharf – a housing development built in anticipation of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, axed by Boris earlier this year – and past some industrial units, and into Charlton. Where it started to rain. I’d gone 77 dry miles on the Capital Ring. The final one wouldn’t be so lucky.

Clancy's, Woolwich
Maryon Park, Charlton
Maryon Park, Charlton

But Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park – the former best-known for its starring role in Blow-Up, the latter much loved for its wonderful childrens’ zoo – seemed at their best in the gloomy conditions. Once part of a highwaymens’ hideout called Hanging Wood, both parks feature steep hills and huge trees. Clambering up a sharp incline in Maryon Park, leaves flying down from the trees, I was pleased I’d saved one of the Capital Ring’s best-kept secrets until last. The stands at The Valley come into view at Maryon Wilson Park, where – for the final time – I gazed back at the London Eye and the City. It’d been a long way…

Maryon Park, Charlton
Maryon Park, Charlton
Maryon Park, Charlton
Maryon Wilson Park, Charlton
Maryon Wilson Park, Charlton
Maryon Wilson Park, Charlton
Maryon Wilson Park, Charlton

Finally, it was out of Maryon Wilson Park, across the road, and into Charlton Park, where the football pitches and semis on Canberra Road came into view again.

Charlton Park
Charlton Park
Charlton Park
The end is nigh: Charlton House

A squirrel formed the welcoming committee as I reached the back of Charlton House, turned around to see if anyone was looking, and touched the sign post to mark the completion of my walk. Eleven separate walks and 78 miles later, my Capital Ring journey was all over. Ahead of me stretched the path back around to Shooters Hill, Eltham, Grove Park, Beckenham, Streatham, Wimbledon, Richmond, Isleworth… and the rest. Behind me stretched another path. With aching feet and fading light, it was time to go home.

The ring completed: Charlton Park
Sunset at Charlton Park
Charlton House: The end

Here’s all my Capital Ring posts on one page.

Written by Darryl

12 November, 2009 at 3:30 pm

10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. ah, you saved the best bit until last…

    H

    12 November, 2009 at 3:34 pm

  2. Actually published by accident! Was meant to go up today, but was going to hold it over because of the Newsbeat stuff. Hey-ho.

    Darryl

    12 November, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  3. Sorry to have spoil the unveiling! Good post nonetheless (as is Newsbeat which I hope the people the people on high take some lessons from).

    Strange how you sometimes forget about the beautiful places on your own doorstep.

    On a separate point, I don’t think I’ll ever be reconciled with that orange easyjet-style block by the river in Woolwich.

    H

    12 November, 2009 at 4:06 pm

  4. Great final post Darryl. Been a good read and excellent photos.

    stonemuse

    12 November, 2009 at 4:16 pm

  5. From one who shared a small part of the 78 miles, big congrats on getting all the way round.

    Stuart

    12 November, 2009 at 4:36 pm

  6. Yeah – Newham stripped away all signs of the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich. Up until the late 1990s there was a sign on the wall of the ladies in Pier Road which said “Someone was recently convicted in Woolwich Police Court for writing on the walls of this toilet which belongs to the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich’.
    I could go on at length about the Museum and its fate. I was teaching for Birkbeck until five years ago in their upstairs room – with lots of distractions going up and down the river just outside the front window.

    Edith

    12 November, 2009 at 4:53 pm

  7. I’ve much enjoyed all your capital ring posts – maybe I’ll do some more of it myself next year…

    Will

    12 November, 2009 at 8:38 pm

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts about the Capital Ring walk. Brought me back to when I did it in 2002/3. I was interested to see which bits had changed in that time. Surprisingly little of it, really.

    What next? I have to heartily recommend the London Loop. I really enjoyed that walk. Though, I’d pick it up in the spring if I were you. Go on I dare ya!

    The other long-distance walk that I made a start on, but never finished was the Thames Walk. I started at the barrier and three walks got me as far as Mortlake, but I never carried on with it. Maybe someday…

    Mind you, given where I live now, I’d probably be better off starting from the source & heading downstream. P’raps we could meet in the middle?

    Brian

    13 November, 2009 at 12:12 pm

  9. Thank you for the series and sorry we didn’t meet all that time ago on Tooting Common!

    Gert

    8 December, 2009 at 9:00 pm

  10. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and the photos. I’ve just completed the Capital Ring in 5 stages starting and ending at Woolwich and your descriptons and photos have helped fix the memories in my mind ,having seen so much in short a time span.

    I loved the feeling on arriving back at the Thames at Gallions Point even though that new estate and the nearby wasteland has such an eerie atmosphere.

    Despite living in Notting Hill for 8 years in the 90s and working in the centre I’d never ventured out to most of the places on the route apart from Wimbledon and Richmond. I think I’ve lost a few prejudices about some of the more outlying boroughs.

    Thanks for putting your story out there.

    Andrew

    16 May, 2011 at 7:18 pm


Hello! Please join the discussion below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 456 other followers